When you enter into this sharpshooting shop, you'd feel like time stopped. The walls lined with old paneling tell of a single life, testifying to the cities, people, and significant moments of our host: Sarajevo, Comrade Tito, the revived coat of arms of medieval Bosnia, family members, newspaper clippings that once wrote about the master sharpener workshop. You were greeted by him, an elderly gentleman with a gray mustache, glasses half-nose, and a cap on his head. Džanko Papić, owner of a small shop with his dexterous hands, has been sharpening knives here for fifty-five years!

At first contact, he showed no interest in any cooperation. “I'm not really in the mood, I've been filmed more than once.” It was necessary – it turned out – to talk about his job, the political situation, and especially about today's neglect of the trade, for the old master to soften up. “Come next Thursday morning, we'll do something,” he said, looking over his glasses, then proceeded to hone the knife brought to him by a fellow from a nearby pizzeria.

Sharpening, he talked at the next meeting, consists of several steps. First, the knives are sharpened on the stone. He gets it from Slovenia. “Only there is such a quality stone that can sharpen knives,” he said as the sparks lit up his face. This is followed by grinding, so that larger pieces of metal formed by sharpening are removed. The last part of the process is polishing. Each knife is eventually tested, trying to cut off a piece of paper it holds in the air. If the knife can cut him, it means he met his standards.

“Whoever sharpens the knife at my place comes back to me all the time.”

I was also brought my two knives to test his claims. I looked with pleasure at the skill of an old master. With long movements he pulls a knife over a rotating rock, sparks fly everywhere. After grinding and polishing come the most exciting moment: testing the knife! I recalled documentaries about making samurai swords in ancient Japan, where the master eventually cuts up bamboo trees. Master Džanko, with a slight movement of the hand, cuts a sheet of paper that he holds in the other hand. The severed piece falls to the floor. The knife passed the test, which tells us, and a slight twinkle in the master's eyes.

Last year, the handyman turned five and a half decades into this business. At home, he told me, he arrives to help his sick wife. On parting, he added, “In recent years, everyone has started to deal with sharpening knives. They think I guess, it's an easy and easy job. They're wrong.”

In the meantime, I stepped forward with knives. When I mentioned to my friend that I would go to the master to sharpen the knives and that I would make some more recordings along the way, I found out that Master Džanko, our sharpener, had passed away. In March this year, his heart stopped beating, just five days after it stopped beating on his wife.


Sarajevo, 2021.

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